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Benetton group: Unconventional advertising
The purpose of advertising is not to sell more. It’s to do with institutional publicity, whose aim is to communicate the company’s values (...) We need to convey a single strong image, which can be shared anywhere in the world. – Luciano Benetton, Founder Chairman I am not here to sell pullovers, but to promote an image... Benetton’s advertising draws public attention to universal themes like racial integration, the protection of the environment, Aids... – Oliviero Toscani, Benetton Art Director and Photographer
Benetton Group: Unconventional Advertising
The group’s principal brands included United Colors of Benetton (UCB), Sisley, PlayLife, Nordica, Prince, Rollerblade, and Killer Loop. The Benetton family (comprised of three brothers and a sister) established the Benetton chain in a small Italian town in 1955. To support his family, Luciano Benetton (born 1935), dropped out of school to sell apparel. His sister Guiliana (born 1937) worked as a knitter in a local factory. Recognizing the potential for a new business, Luciano and Guiliana decided to start their own apparel company. They started off small by selling sweaters and as the business grew, the remaining two brothers joined in the activities of the company. Each of the four siblings took responsibility for one aspect of the business—Luciano concentrated on marketing; Guiliana directed the design department; Gilberto (born 1941) handled administration and finance; and Carlo (born 1943) managed production. As business picked up, the company entered into an agreement to open a store for the exclusive marketing of apparel. The first store was opened in 1969 and was an immediate success.
enetton Group is engaged in the manufacturing and distribution of clothing, undergarments, shoes, cosmetics and accessories. Benetton also licensed its brand name for a number of products like sunglasses, stationery, cosmetics, linens, watches, toys, steering wheels and knobs for automobile gearshifts, golf equipments, designer condoms, luggage and designer pagers, etc.
* Senthil Ganesan is a Faculty at ICFAI Knowledge Center, an affiliate of ICFAI. His areas of interest include Company Analysis and Industry Analysis. © ICFAI PRESS. All Rights Reserved. 53
play the lead part. AIDS awareness. child acts. pollution etc. By linking the varying colors in the Benetton labor. The company strives to promote itself as a socially responsible business. Toscani’s initial biggest accolade that the advertisements were company received was for its conventional in style showing Unlike most advertisements groups of young people practice to separate its products from advertisements. It was from these
The way of the advertisements
Benetton has earned worldwide recognition by creating advertisement themes that promote diversity and various other social causes. the kids engaged in a variety of playful integration. Colorfully dressed in addressed social and political issues like racial Benetton attire. poverty. Toscani portrayed a picture of racial rather than to “sell” apparel and accessories. and used sub-contractors. they decided to create a network of exclusive distributors.Case Study n
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The same year. advertisements which centered around a company’s Toscani’s first theme featured teenagers and kids product or image. Frankfurt. The the company. Luciano Benetton hired Oliviero Benetton is one of the strongest brands in the world Toscani. a prominent fashion and advertisements and adding to its popularity is the company’s photographer to head the advertising department of advertising strategy. The company is listed in Milan. it went overseas by opening a similar store in Paris. contained within a dark green rectangle). They to grab viewer’s attention and decided to promote Benetton to make their brand name memorable. The company has decided to devote some of its advertising budget to communicate on themes relevant to young and old people worldwide. New York. The company tried more collection to the diverse “colors” of its world to “communicate” to the world about these issues customers. the company launched a similar campaign
. London. Benetton’s advertising campaigns from culturally diverse nations. war. In 1984. death. the company operated in about 120 countries through more than 7. Luciano and Toscani soon for its unusual advertising realized that Benetton Benetton’s advertising techniques and themes. Unlike most small producers.”
Until the 1980s. The chain soon expanded across the world and established strong brand equity. Unlike most as a “life style accessory” and not as a clothing brand.000 retail stores. most advertisements had to stand campaigns addressed social apart from the rest of the of them bordering on controversy and debate. Benetton advertisements were of the traditional form and largely focused on its products and logo (stylized knot of yarn with word Benetton printed under it. harmony and world peace. is well-known across the world company’s product or image. Various company literature highlight Benetton’s advertisement strategy: “Benetton believes that it is important for companies to take a stance in the real world instead of using their advertising budget to perpetuate the myth that they can make consumers happy through the mere purchase of their product. In 1982. Toronto and Tokyo stock exchanges. by supporting social organizations and discussing moral issues in its print campaigns throughout the world. As of 2001. who opted for the widest possible distribution. Benetton which centered around a wearing Benetton clothing. competition and also from the and political issues Benetton utilized “shock value” standard practices of the and the reality of photographs advertising industry.
advertisements that the world famous inspirational trademark “United Colors of Benetton” emerged.
The company opted for a communication strategy in which issues and not clothes.
The globe became a symbol of unification. You show some lovely looking models and that’s it. the company started mixing culture and legends. Bruno Suter.”
. so exhilarating to show the products in such a new and simple way. just as all men are equal. The message read: “All colors are equal.” In 1986. It was fantastic. Similar themed advertisements were launched for other countries in political battles with each other: England and Argentina. with the company logo in the corner.” Luciano Benetton explained his decision to separate the products from the advertisements: “Using these images in this unconventional way is an effort by Benetton to break through the complacency that exists in our society due to the constant flow of even the most horrendous realities communicated through conventional media such as the evening news or the morning paper. we started out with the notion of color. His new advertisements neither
showed the products nor the logo. to convey this idea of colors. commented on this multi-race theme: “Nothing more is more like a fashion photograph than another fashion photograph.
Toscani decided that the company turn to advertisements featuring not products but photos that stimulated thinking. etc.” In 1985.” Through such advertisements.” Since Benetton’s clothing was sold in so many different markets. Benetton means colors. and appeared on all the posters that year. So. Israelis and Arabs. Israel and Germany.GLOBAL CEO n November 2002
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titled “All the colors in the World. Benetton aimed to create a feeling of world peace and harmony. By definition. Director of Eldorado Agency that handled Benetton’s advertising account. Iran and Iraq. advertisements included two black boys kissing each other. The knot logo was replaced with a small green triangle with the tagline “United Colors of Benetton.” showing groups of teenagers and kids from different countries and ethnic groups dressed in Benetton clothing. with little US and USSR flags in their hair and painted on their cheeks with the tagline “United Colors of Benetton. By removing these images from their familiar contexts and putting them in a new context they are more likely to be noticed and given the attention they deserve as the viewer becomes involved in the
In 1988. made up of people with different colored skin. the two little black boys appeared again. New advertisements featured Adam and Eve. each one preferring different styles. we showed a group. all captioned with the slogan: “United Superstars of Benetton. Leonardo de Vinci and Julius Caesar. united by a globe and a chain with the peace symbol. With Benetton.
Similar campaigns were also done with animals—a wolf and a lamb with the tagline: “United Friends of Benetton. Joan of Arc and Marilyn Monroe.
several young couples of miners and bakers united by the black of the soot or coal and the white of the flour. the image was exhibited in a Flemish museum as part of a show celebrating the images of motherhood. In 1991. The advertisement featuring the priest and nun seriously offended the Pope of Vatican and the religious sentiments of many.
In 1992. advertisement simply conveyed the beauty of new life. The black woman-white baby advertisement received severe criticism because many thought that Benetton was reminding the black people of the US and UK of the times of slavery when black women breast-fed white babies. The advertisements were a means to draw attention to important social problems and thereby generate public discussion. etc. These appeared in various journals and magazines as well as on billboards without written text except for the conspicuous insertion of the green and white Benetton logo located in the margins. however. He selected a series of photojournalistic images concerning the AIDS crisis. a little black hand on a big white hand. Throughout the early 1990s. war exile. In the company’s view. the other white) facing each other sitting on their potties.
Famous advertisements during the late 1980s included a black hand and a white hand linked by a handcuff. a black child sleeping among a pile of white teddy-bears. Other advertisements signifying brotherhood and camaraderie included a white wolf and a black sheep nose to nose. a black woman breast-feeding a white baby. two children (one black.
. Toscani introduced a number of advertisements that discussed other social issues. etc. a piano duo showing little white hands being helped by big black hands. Toscani explained the company’s decision to shift towards photojournalistic images. However.Case Study n
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process of answering the questions: What does this image mean? Why does this image appear with a Benetton logo? How do I feel about the subject of the image? What can I do?”
An angelic-looking white child embracing a black one whose hair shaped into devil’s horns created a lot of conaternation among Black groups in the US. a priest and a nun kissing. a baby with an umbilical cord. The photo set off a huge controversy throughout Europe and many wanted it to be banned. Benetton maintained that such photos were only symbols of brotherhood in the world and not exploitation of a particular race. political violence. environmental disaster. Toscani combined advertisements with politics to further promote the Benetton image. More specifically the advertisement was to convey the universal idea of love as a force from which life itself is born and that a baby symbolizes the most permanent form of love. tubes of personality tests. Benetton advertisements featured a cemetery (signifying war deaths). At the same time. The image of the baby with an umbilical cord invited mixed responses. many different brightly colored condoms.
Benetton used images of Arabs and Jews living and working together in Israel. Sunflowers (featuring children with Down’s Syndrome). The campaign appeared on billboards and in major publications in Europe. Benetton advertisements also promoted homosexuality: Two smiling men cheek to cheek. all different colors with the label “United Colors of Benetton. media and general public alike. Jewish and Arab youth leaders.” the cover showed a kiss between a 24-year-old Israeli student and her 22-year-old Bedouin boyfriend. an African guerrilla holding a Kalachnikov and a human leg bone.” A more shocking advertisement showed
. Benetton also created a number of catalogs titled “People and Places. three identical human hearts. They do not tell anyone to buy our clothes. our images usually have no copy and no product. In 1998. a group of African refugees.” Advertisements included: A dying AIDS victim with his family at his bedside. In January 2000. The booklet included photos of 26 inmates and interviews in which they
“Unlike traditional adverts. printing their names and dates of execution.” Catalog themes included Young People in Tokyo. two Indians caught in a flood in Calcutta. two women—one white and the other black. with stickers announcing different ethnic groups “white. they do not even imply it. All they attempt to do is promote a discussion about issues which people would normally glide over if they approached them from other channels. a boat overcrowded with Albanians. wrapped in the same blanket. India. Benetton also launched an advertisement with a series of masculine and feminine genitals. a mixed kindergarten of Jewish and Arab kids. They do not show you a fictitious reality in which you will be irresistible if you make use of our products. etc.GLOBAL CEO n November 2002
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close-ups of various parts of the human body (pubis. a car in flames after a Mafia
bombing. Ponzano (Italy). a music band comprising of Jews and Arabs. Titled “Enemies. The catalog included photos of an Arab grocer and a Jewish customer. The advertisements featured full color faces of death-row inmates. no matter what the outside skin color was. issues we feel should be more widely discussed. Benetton released its death-row advertising campaign. A special booklet and video was also released that aimed at showing the reality and futility of capital punishment.” The tattoo mark was similar to the numbers tattooed by Nazis on concentration camp prisoners. Corleone (Italy). etc.” Though most of its advertisements were severely rebuked by governments. holding an Asian baby. These catalogs featured pictures of people from the above-mentioned countries. which featured prisoners who had been sentenced to death. etc. all different ages. a family weeping before the bloodied corpse of a Mafioso. etc. bottom) tattooed with the English abbreviation “HIV Positive. Toscani went one step further by embracing “reality advertising.” The hearts portrayed that everybody was the same in the inside. only our logo. Other controversial advertisements included a black stallion mounting a white mare. Apart from advertisements for billboards and magazines. China. Jerusalem. stomach. arms. America and Asia. black and yellow.
As more and more people understand our position and the urgency of these issues. Toscani’s responsibility. model and merchandizing. this has already happened. the consumer. we must take our communication our images have caused. to a discussion of the be like throwing money away if we only explained
. Benetton has given me incredible Luciano Benetton responded to retailers and other freedom to propose issues that should be protestors about its questionable advertising themes: communicated. many newspapers in many countries the viewer. in the apparel business.” The more the company’s advertisements were banned. Many retailers criticized Benetton’s was Oliviero Toscani who created advertisements the less traditional way. politically correct message. I’m is entitled to illustrate its point of view in its aware that. In reality.Case Study n
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discussed about life and their punishment.
issues themselves. the company associates itself with engineered refused to print Benetton feelings of empowerment advertisements. the more Benetton got publicity. even if the message is made with shocking images.” then they would be less inclined to see the prisoners executed and more inclined to support against death penalty. Benetton Benetton and Oliviero Toscani was also sued by many of its retail outlets that believed the provocative advertisements drove away The strong force behind Benetton’s advertisements customers. But we still find a lot of people I’m responsible for the company’s who know the name but don’t know what we sell. at detractors. The state of Missouri (US) where the inmates in question were imprisoned filed a suit against the company stating that they were mislead regarding the use of the photos that were taken. Through government authorities in Toscani’s responsibility.” and tries to claim the ability for promote sales a bird stuck in an oil slick. They social change. He explained his If Benetton wanted to underwrite some cause. The newborn advertisement was buy their product through shock value. an up“We are aware of the controversy that some of to-date company. By empowering Over the years. Not the one usually followed worthwhile stances will have supporters and by most companies.” communications. But we’re trying to sell products. and righteousness. At this point everyone should know “Nobody ever told me my job was to sell anything. France and UK. as strategy: Benetton’s creative director. realities rather than promote sales. To be really contemporary. In 1995. Benetton as a company has advertisements featuring child was to document social become icon for this kind of laborers. empowerment and memorability. The families of the victims and prisoners objected strongly to the campaign. having a relatively big budget. the human body protest in advertising which realities rather than stamped “HIV Positive. withdrawn from the media in Italy. In various countries.” One leading magazine summarized Benetton’s advertisements:
“They seem to take the virtuous stand for the betterment of humanity and thus create a sense of power in the viewer who agrees with the safe. as the use of such images Germany banned Benetton Benetton’s creative director. The campaign resulted in widespread protests from customers as well as government bodies. it would advertising campaigns. role in the company: we’d be supportive. Benetton thought that if the public saw these inmates as “people. were banned because these Benetton creates an advertisements exploited empowered viewer who will suffering. what Benetton is. I’m not responsible for its economics. was to document social “We are talking about two different arenas here. we hope to become the vehicle for discussion and not its focus. Our hope is that people will move from least.when there’s an obvious connection the sterile discussion of whether or not a company between product. but we believe that all in another direction.
since all Following the controversy surrounding the death row products started looking alike. however. like a play or a film. our sales will greatly client company’s philosophy. I use products to focus on the major problems besetting humanity. The product took a “socially responsible” image also decided against shopping back seat and what was sold by working on nonwas a symbol. poverty. That’s my work. Advertising should give something more. In the early twentieth century advertising focused on a company’s buildings and machines.GLOBAL CEO n November 2002
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that our product is better than the competition’s. I’ve proved that it can be profitable. maintained that the company advertising with the death-row campaign. It If we can undo the damage that we have already wants to perpetuate the system to keep on living caused in the minds of many consumers by off it. The fact is that advertisers must explain the ceasing to offend them. I don’t do the same thing other people do.”
“There is a crisis in advertising. Various surveys The long legs offered added would still maintain its suggested that loyal customers value. After that it started presenting products. but the advertising it. Advertising people hate me but they have to admit that I’ve won.” His advertising style was in strict contrast to most advertising styles and he identified a number of drawbacks in traditional advertising.. child labor. increase. we will attract He believes that the industry as a whole should more business. to report something that exists. In an interview he commented:
He latter added: “To be successful advertising has to disconnect the message from the product and forget about marketing. Oliviero Toscani quit Benetton in May 2000.” By picturing our stylish clothes. The problem at Benetton. It tells them. We can’t be like ostriches who put their head in the sand. they could no campaign. if you buy a certain brand of sports by UCB in our advertisements..”
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. If they’re successful. We need to show shoes you can play like Ronaldo even if you can’t consumers that we are an actual clothing line. To capture their attention. which standardizes everything. All they know how to do is repeat discrimination. opinions on various subjects. not that we have controversial products are good. the company has grown tenfold. ‘if you “We need to have models wearing our clothes haven’t got this product. Benetton realized that it longer be at the heart of the had crossed even the message. People who respect our over the years. kick a ball. and not a political or governmental company. AIDS awareness. however. So in the 1960s boundaries of unconventional advertisers started showing Benetton. Consumers want to buy our change the way advertisements are used. Following controversial causes with this technique is that Toscani’s exit. Since I’ve been working for Benetton. but it’s so rich and powerful that it’s very difficult for it to change. Benetton the message is always based highlighted its advertising on consumers’ shortcomings strategy for the future: and makes them feel guilty. The industry is lagging behind social trends.” advertising must become an artistic product in itself. etc. On the other hand. despite the political issues that we represent. leggy models to sell cars. n what’s already been done. Let’s show the world that we make consumers will work out for themselves that the great clothing. by working on non-controversial causes like racial who are idiots. industry couldn’t care less about creativity. The reason clothes because they are attractive and have a being that consumer-spending pattern had changed high quality reputation. Then. That has never Benetton. maintained that the company happened because the only things that condition would still maintain its “socially responsible” image the industry are money and marketing managers. you’re out of it. He explained: clothing line are the only ones that actually buy “They have to be more creative.